26 August 2008

The Veepstakes, Part IX: Two days out

It looks like it's down to Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Joe Lieberman, and probably in that order. Second- and third-tier candidates -- from Jindal and Crist down to Whitman and Rice -- look to be out of the running. However, with Romney and Rudy Guiliani headlining a GOP sideshow in Denver this week, Dems have already sounded the class-warfare bell with respect to the former Massachusetts governor.

Obama mouthpiece David Plouffe has already laid the groundwork for an attack against a McCain/Romney ticket -- John McCain owns seven homes, and uber-wealthy Mitt Romney outsourced jobs when he was in the private sector. It's another lame liberal attempt to paint the GOP as the party of the rich, but McCain must be mindful of its potential effectiveness in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, et al., in such a close race. 

Pawlenty might have scored himself a point or two yesterday. When asked how he would fare in the Oct. 2 VP debate against Joe Biden, he replied that he'd do fine but that, given Biden's long-windedness, they might have to extend the debate by a couple hours. The class-warfare line won't work against Pawlenty, the first in his family to attend college. Additionally, a recent poll indicates that Pawlenty's popularity in his home state of Minnesota could in fact tip the state into the GOP column for the first time in a generation. That's not to be discounted. If McCain thinks that Pawlenty can at least hold his own against Biden, then he should choose him over Romney. 

In terms of a long-term focus: Pawlenty is 47 and into his second term as the governor of Minnesota. Simply adding him to the ticket would establish a clear rising star in the GOP ranks, much like Obama was four years ago. Even if McCain loses the election, Pawlenty would be well-positioned to run for the presidency in either 2012 or 2016. He is the exact type of Republican -- affable, humble, blue-collar and genuinely concerned about limiting the reach of government into people's everyday lives -- that is attractive to voters on the national stage.

Evaluating the three frontrunners, however, it's clear to me that Lieberman would not only be the most fascinating, but the most effective. In reality, the choice of Romney will move public opinion only slightly, and Pawlenty is a relative unknown outside of his home state. Lieberman, however, would have an enormous reach to disaffected Democrats. (Did anyone else see the flood of "Hillary" signs during HRC's "unity" speech last night?) The Connecticut senator would aggravate the base, but he's a game-changer. Obama's line about "four more years" -- probably the central theme of his campaign for the next 70 days -- would be rendered moot. And if Lieberman made a promise to either stay on for only one term or to never run for president, at least some disenchanted conservatives would probably be mollified. 

And really -- where are these conservatives going to go? Will they really pull the lever for the Hopemonger?

The race is currently 50/50. McCain and Obama are effectively tied in every nationwide tracking poll. Thus, a safe choice (Romney) is a better idea today than it was three or four weeks ago. Similarly, an outside-the-box pick (Lieberman) doesn't seem as necessary. Still, if McCain wants to make headway and throw a full-court press on the political center (which must be won), he'll choose Lieberman. Concededly, a few conservatives would stay home. But McCain could turn this thing into a potential blowout if he picks his buddy.

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